Passing objects transform virtual reality into “surrealism”: with “Lab’Surd”, presented at the last VRLab and Decalab meeting early May, the research artist Judith Guez offers an immersion experience borrowing from surrealism.
How does one activate the feeling of presence in the experience of virtual reality? In order to generate such a feeling, i.e. the cognitive acceptance of simulated reality, several means were imagined, from hyper-realism to an environment that would rapidly meet our requests. One of the interesting trails is multi-modality that calls upon several of our senses to reinforce the investment in VR.
It is this direction that chose to follow artist and researcher Judith Guez who presented Lab’Surd on May 4th at the Google Institute during the art and virtual reality meeting of VRLab and Decalab. The young PhD student at the Digital Image and virtual reality Laboratory (INREV) in Paris relied on haptics –the science of touch, by analogy with acoustics, optics– and the action/perception couple to maintain the participant’s presence in a universe gradually sliding towards oneirism. The physical link obtained allows for more extravagance in the experience.
Welcome to the “rabbit hole”
Lab’Surd in real life is a chair and a table. A glass and a lamp – that looks like than animated lamp of Pixar- are placed on the table. The visitor is invited to sit down with no other instruction than to take hold of the glass. He is then equipped with an Oculus Rift and headphones. The session lasts a few minutes. Although time is constrained, space will unwind and transform itself. Walls will dissolve or expand to offer sketches that are more and more absurd from the participant’s point of view.
However, although we could remain estranged from the environment, we understand that the glass is interactive. This Alice in Wonderland rabbit allows us to physically move from real space to virtual space. The absence of instructions makes the experience unique. We start playing with the ball of light whilst noticing that our physical movements have an impact on the environment. With the help of the glass, we push, attempt to confine this little reassuring and crafty will-o’-the-wisp, whilst the world around us is restructuring itself in impossible configurations similarly to the works of Escher or Magritte. There is something of Alice in Wonderland, both magnificent and a little worrying.
Survirtuality and increased virtuality
Judith Guez draws a parallel between the surrealist movement and what she calls “survirtuality”. A virtual reality that goes further, that misleads our senses to appear real but, once accepted, takes us to a place where reality does not give us access. In doing so, she also explores convergence margins, a slightly technical term that covers the interpenetration of reality plans. If we talk about increased reality that adds virtual elements in our field of vision, why couldn’t we talk about increased virtuality? As if real elements came to over-impress the virtual environment: here the glass, the lamp and the postulate of the scenery. It’s in a way similar to the principle of the catch phrase. It will then be easier to accept that this reality is taken to pieces and recomposed.
Reality designer: art and technique
There must be a certain pleasure in telling yourself you are showing something on the border of two worlds, like an explorer that would allow you to see beyond the known world. The producer then recovers its etymology of reality creator. However it is mainly effective teamwork and the wise use of new simulation techniques that allowed Judith to develop this small bridge toward the impossible.
The researcher surrounded herself with Guillaume Bertinet, real time 3D graphic designer, Kevin Wagrez, research engineer at Paris Tech and Florian Costes, sound designer. The universe was designed under Unity 3D, with an Oculus Rift DK2 for immersion and a Razer Hydra joystick (3D) hidden in the glass.
Lab’Surd, developed for Laval Virtual 2014, was in demo mode during the Brainstorm event at the Google cultural Institute, organised collectively by VRLab and Decalab in Paris. The “small laboratory of survirtuality” will also be presented during the Ars Electronica festival, next September in Austria.
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